It’s obvious that the Commonwealth has been no great fan of Tate Reeves, not just during this year’s gubernatorial election but during most of his eight years as Mississippi’s second-in-command.
His ideology runs counter to most of what we believe is important to this state — and particularly to a region, the Delta, which has so many challenges to which Reeves seems not all that concerned.
But you have to say this for him. He knows how to raise money, and he knows how to win elections.
Reeves surprised many with his relatively comfortable 52% to 47% victory over Democrat Jim Hood in Tuesday’s general election.
The margin for Reeves wasn’t as large as it was for the other six Republicans who won their statewide contests, but it was larger than had been anticipated in this battle between two previously undefeated electoral titans.
Some will credit President Donald Trump’s endorsement and 11th-hour visit to Mississippi as providing Reeves with that last bump. Certainly the president is popular in this highly conservative state. But Trump worked even harder in equally conservative Kentucky, and there the incumbent Republican governor appears to have been edged out.
What was the difference?
As a campaigner, he knows the right buttons to push not just to maintain his ultraconservative base but to keep those just right of center from defecting to the other side. He says no on tax increases, no matter how sensible or needed they may be, and pushes for tax cuts, no matter how ill-advised they are. He speaks disrespectfully of Barack Obama and other national Democrats, such as Nancy Pelosi, who couldn’t win a statewide contest in Mississippi either. He exaggerates how well this state is doing under his watch. And even if some Republicans grouse about him behind his back, Reeves has them scared enough that they don’t buck him publicly.
Sound a bit like Donald Trump? Perhaps. But it should be noted that Reeves was effectively following this playbook in Mississippi years before the celebrity CEO took it national.
Having demonstrated he knows how to win elections, now the challenge for Reeves is to do something big with that power.
He has shot down or ignored most of the big ideas his opponents had — expanding Medicaid, implementing a major road and bridge program, making public pre-kindergarten universal.
Reeves has pledged to get teacher pay up toward the elusive Southeastern average, but after that, it is hard to identify a comprehensive vision from him.
Maybe that will come now.
He said many of the right things during his victory speech Tuesday night, promising repeatedly that as governor he would try to serve all of the state’s people, not just the conservative majority that voted for him.
He will have a tremendous amount of political leverage to employ, with Republicans holding every statewide office for the first time since Reconstruction and maintaining supermajorities in both legislative chambers.
If he avoids hubris, Reeves has the opportunity to accomplish a lot. We wish him success.